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Jared Sparks 


Alexis de Tocqueville 






History is past Politics and Politics are present History. Freeman 

Jared Sparks 


Alexis de Tocqueville 







Tocqueville to Sparks, Cincinnati, Dec. 2, 1831 9 

Sparks to Tocqueville, Boston, Jan. n, 1832 13 

Tocqueville to Sparks, Washington, Jan. 20, 1832 .... 14 

Sparks to Tocqueville, Boston, Feb. 2, 1832 15 



Towns 19 

Town Meetings 20 

Selectmen 20 

Taxes 21 

Schools 22 

School Districts 23 

School Committees 23 

Parishes 25 

Religious Societies 26 

Remarks 28 

Answers to Queries proposed by M. de Tocqueville ... 29 


Tocqueville to Sparks, Paris, Sept. n, 1835 40 

Tocqueville to Sparks, Paris, Jan. 14, 1837 41 

Sparks to Major Poussin, Feb. i, 1841, on Tocqueville . . 43 
Sparks to Tocqueville, Cambridge, June 13, 1853 .... 44 
Sparks to Count de Menou, May 23, 1859 4^ 

Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 



Jared Sparks made the acquaintance of Alexis de Toc- 
queville in the year 1828, during a visit to Paris for the dis- 
covery of materials for American history in the French 
archives. Three years later Tocqueville came over to 
America for the purpose of studying the democratic insti- 
tutions of this country. France had entered upon a more 
popular form of constitutional government under Louis 
Philippe, the citizen king, and Tocqueville was eager to col- 
lect historical evidence from the United States to justify the 
attempt of a great people to govern itself. Democracy in 
America was reviewed by him for the political encourage- 
ment and practical instruction of the French people. With 
this patriotic intent Tocqueville set out to discover the fun- 
damental institutions of American self-government. He 
went to Boston and made inquiries regarding the organi- 
zation of New England towns. Just as Edward Augustus 

*The recent publication by The Century Company of a new edition 
of Tocqueville's " Democracy in America," with a biographical in- 
troduction by President D. C. Oilman, revived the idea of printing, 
in the Johns Hopkins University Studies, the present series of letters, 
illustrating the relations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Jared Sparks. 
Permission to make special use of these materials was kindly ac- 
corded five years ago by representatives of the Sparks family. In- 
deed, at the time (1893) when the work, entitled "The Life and 
Writings of Jared Sparks," was published by Houghton & Mifflin, 
the editor contemplated the issue of this monograph in connection 
with the studies because of Mr. Sparks' " Observations on the Gov- 
ernment of Towns in Massachusetts," one of the original sources of 
Tocqueville's information. The publication of this paper, long ago 
announced, has been hitherto delayed by press of other matters. 

8 fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqiieville. [570 

Freeman, Maxime Kovalevsky, James Bryce and others 
interested themselves in the local life of our Ameri- 
can commonwealths, so Alexis de Tocqueville went to 
the very sources of American democracy. It is not gen- 
erally known that some of the most authentic information 
which Tocqueville obtained upon the subject of town gov- 
ernment in New England came from that pioneer of Ameri- 
can institutional history, Jared Sparks. 

In Mr. Sparks' journal for January 20, 1832, appears the 
following account of the original objects of the government 
mission of Tocqueville and Beaumont to America and of 
Mr. Sparks' relation to one of the two main lines of their 
inquiry. "Two French gentlemen, Messrs. Beaumont and 
Tocqueville, were here three months ago, employed in ex- 
amining the system of prisons, and other local institutions. 
They were sent out for this purpose by the French govern- 
ment. They have been very desirous to get some ideas of 
the municipal, or town governments in New England. No 
books treat of this matter, and if they did, they could hardly 
be understood by a foreigner wholly unacquainted with the 
habits of the people. At their solicitation I agreed to write 
an account of the system, as far as it could be made intelli- 
gible, and suited to persons but little informed on the sub- 
ject. The principles are important in regard to any 
changes that may be contemplated in the municipal estab- 
lishments of France. I have performed my promise, and 
written a memoir, entitled 'Observations on the Town Gov- 
ernments of Massachusetts.' I have hinted at the origin 
of the towns, the progress of their habits of governing them- 
selves, and drawn out in as plain a form as possible the sys- 
tem as it now exists in practice. It has been a task of much 
\labor, for there are few things more difficult than to write 
' intelligibly on a subject which seems to the writer to be 
familiar to all, and about which nobody makes inquiries, 
because the whole subject is treasured up among his first 
r ideas, and is preserved fresh by every day's habit. In such 
a case it is difficult to discriminate between what a foreigner 

571] fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 9 

would at once comprehend, and what would be obscure and 
beyond the compass of his knowledge. I have done as well 
as I could, and written a plain statement of principles, laws, 
and customs upon which the town governments are 
founded, and their mode of operation." 

A letter from Tocqueville to Sparks was written on that 
journey westward which President Gilman has so graphi- 
cally described in his introduction to the Century edition of 
" Democracy in America," Vol. I, xii : "After crossing the 
Alleghanies, at the beginning of a severe winter, they pro- 
ceeded by way of Wheeling to Cincinnati. The river was 
full of ice. The steamer came into great perils. A land- 
ing was made at Westport, Kentucky, and the travelers, find- 
ing no equipage, walked to Louisville, whence they took a 
stage for Nashville." 


CINCINNATI, December 2, 1831. 

Vous avez bien voulu, Monsieur, me promettre de m'e- 
crire a Washington pour me donner sur le Massachusetts les 
renseignemens que mon court sejour a Boston ne m'a pas 
permis de recueillir par moi-meme et qui, me venant de 
vous, me seront doublement precieux. J'ai pense bien des 
fois depuis, qu'en vous faisant cette demande j'avais grande- 
ment abuse de Tamitie que vous nous avez temoignee; 
mais en meme terns j'ai songe que vous me pardonneriez 
sans doute en consideration du motif qui me fait agir et qui, 
comme vous le savez, n'est point seulement une vaine curio- 
site. C'est cette derniere raison qui m'encourage a vous 
ecrire aujourd'hui pour vous prier d'ajouter au service que 
vous voulez bien me rendre, celui de m'ecrire a une epoque 
plus rapprochee que celle dont nous etions convenus. 
Vous savez que notre intention etait de quitter TAmerique 
dans le courant d'avril prochain; diverses circonstances, 
qu'il serait trop long d'expliquer ici, nous forcent de partir 
dans les premiers jours de fevrier. Si done vous avez tou- 

10 Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqwville. [572 

jours rintention de m'ecrire, je vous prierais instamment de 
le faire avant la fin de Janvier 1832. 

Plus je m'eloigne du Massachusetts, Monsieur, plus je 
sens vivement le regret de n'y avoir pas fait un plus long 
sejour. Nulle part, dans les portions de 1'union que j'ai 
deja parcourues depuis mon depart de Boston, je n'ai trouve 
des institutions communales qui me parussent approcher 
de celles qui sont en vigueur dans la Nouvelle Angleterre. 
C'est la une verite dont je suis pas encore peut-etre juge 
tres competant, mais que proclament unanimement les 
hommes eclaires des etats que je viens de visiter. II eut done 
ete d'une immense importance pour moi d'etudier sur les 
lieux les principes, les formes et les moyens d'action de ce 
gouvernement local dont, depuis si long terns en France, 
nous sentons le besoin et cherchons le modele. Rien de 
plus difficile que de comprendre le jeu d'une pareille machine 
en la voyant decrite dans les livres, surtout dans des livres 
qui ne renferment point d'idees generates et n'adoptent 
point un ordre methodique. Le seul ouvrage dans lequel 
j'ai pu puiser jusqu'a present quelques lumieres sur la 
marche pratique de votre systeme communal, est intitule 
Town-officer. II m'avait ete indique par M. Quincy, le Presi- 
dent de 1'universite de Cambridge: c'est un livre dont le 
merite litteraire et philosophique est nul, et dont 1'utilite 
toute pratique suppose meme toujours dans le lecteur la 
connaissance des coutumes et des lois. Je crains done de 
m'etre souvent egare en le lisant. 

La premiere chose qui m'a frappe a Texamen de cet ou- 
vrage, c'est le grand nombre de fonctionnaires differens qui 
compose votre Magistrature municipale. Ainsi, indepen- 
damment des principaux officiers, 1'ouvrage, dont je parle, 
s'bccupe de divers fonctionnaires publics auxquels il donne 
les noms de fence-viewers, field-Driver, fire-ward, hog- 
Reeve, measurer of wood, parish-officers, sealer of Weights 
and Measures, Surveyor of highways, Surveyor of Lum- 
ber, town clerk, tythingmen . . . . ces officiers existent-ils 
en fait ou seulement dans la loi? Existent-ils partout, ou 

573] fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 11 

seulement dans les grandes townships ? Voila ce que je ne 
puis deviner. 

Si ces officiers sont en effet nomines chaque annee, rem- 
plissent-ils exactement les fonctions que leur attribue Tau- 
teur du Tozvn-officer f C'est encore la un point que j 'ignore. 
Je sais seulement que chez tous les peuples il y a une grande 
difference entre la lettre de la loi et son execution. Je vois 
a Tarticle Selectman, que les Selectmen, lorsqu'ils s'apper- 
goivent qu'un ou plusieurs habitans de la commune rui- 
nent leur sante ou leur fortune ou perdent habituellement 
leur terns a boire, font afficher le nom de ces individus dans 
les cabarets, et les cabaretiers ne peuvent plus leur fournir 
de vin ni de liqueurs fortes. Les Selectmen doivent aussi 
denoncer aux juges de Probate ceux dont Tinconduite est 
de nature a amener une interdiction. Les Selectmen ont- 
ils en effet ces droits, et surtout en usent-ils? 

Autre exemple: le constable et les tythingmen doivent 
veiller a 1'observation du Dimanche ; ils doivent poursuivre 
les Blasphtmateurs et les joueurs; ils doivent arreter les 
voyageurs le Dimanche; s'enquerir des motifs qui les for- 
cent a voyager ce jour-la, et les empecher de continuer leur 
route si ces motifs ne leur paraissent pas suffisans de 
pareilles lois ne sont-elles pas tombees en desuetude? 

II y a un article en particulier auquel j'avoue que je ne 
puis rien comprendre : c'est celui intitule Parish and Parish 
officers. II semble en effet en resulter que chaque town 
est oblige d'entretenir un Ministre protestant ; faute de quoi, 
elle est condamnee a Tamende par la cour de common pleas 
du Comte. Ceci me parait etablir jusqu'a un certain point 
une Religion d'gtat et faire de la politique et de la Religion 
un melange qu'on semble avoir pris a tache d'eviter 
en Amerique. 

Un peu plus loin, je lis que parmi les habitans d'une 
commune chacun est libre d'abandonner a Parish, mais sous 
la condition d'en joindre une autre ; d'ou je conclus que la 
loi oblige d'avoir une Religion, bien qu'elle ne se prononce 
point entre les diverses communions Protestantes. 

12 fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [574 

Je croyais jusqu'ici que parmi vous, chaque congrega- 
tion avait le droit exclusif de choisir et de renvoyer son pas- 
teur; mais j'apperc.ois, en lisant le Town-officer, que la Con- 
gregation religieuse, qui est designee sous le nom de Par- 
ish, ne peut congedier le Pasteur que dans certains cas pre- 
vus et suivant certaines formes. Ce qui semble faire du 
Ministre un sorte d'officier civil. II y a evidemment sur 
ces differens points quelques principes generaux que j'i- 
gnore et qui me donneraient la cle de tout le restre. 

En general, je commence a connaitre a peu pres votre 
organisation municipale dans ce qu'elle a de materiel. Je 
vois la lettre de la loi, mais son esprit m'echappe ; le Droit 
m'est connu, le fait me manque. II me semble que, the- 
oriquement parlant, vous n'avez pas suivi, pour les com- 
munes ordinaires (not incorporated towns) le systeme du 
gouvernement representatif etabli partout ailleurs. Vos 
communes me paraissent se gouverner elles-memes dans 
le sens naturel du mot, comme les communes de 1'antiquite. 
La Direction des affaires communales n'est point confiee a 
un corps d'administrateurs elus annuellement ; elle appar- 
tient directement au peuple que les Selectmen doivent con- 
suiter pour toutes les mesures importantes, et de la volente 
duquel ils sont purement et simplement les executeurs. 

Voila, je crois, les principes du Droit. Me trompois-je? 
Comment le met-on en pratique et quels en sont les 
effets?* C'est ce qui n'est pas moins important de savoir et 
ce qu'aucun livre ne saurait m'apprendre. En fait, la Com- 
mune toute entiere est-elle souvent consultee? Quel peut 
etre le caractere de ces assemblies? Comment peut-on 
y traiter des affaires delicates et y suivre un systeme quel- 
conque d'administration? Ne forment-elles point des foyers 
d'intrigues et ne sont-elles pas portees, comme toutes les 
grandes assemblies 'populaires, a se laisser entrainer bien 
plus par des passions que par des argumens? 

Vous voyez, Monsieur, que je suis incorrigible; je com- 
mence ma lettre par m'excuser de vous avoir fait des ques- 
tions et finis en vous en faisant de nouvelles. Je voudrais 

575] fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 13 

bien, Monsieur, que pour m'absoudre, vous voulussiez bien, 
de votre cote, nous mettre a meme de vous etre de quelque 
utilite a notre retour en Europe. Ce serait, je vous jure, nous 
rendre un veritable service que de nous fournir 1'occasion 
de vous etre agreable et de reconnaitre en meme terns les 
bons precedes de vos compatriotes a notre egard en vous 
facilitant la terminaison du bel ouvrage que vous avez en- 

Veuillez, Monsieur, recevoir, tant en mon nom qu'en 
celui de M. Beaumont Tassurance de notre consideration la 
plus distinguee. 

P. S. Mr. Hale, 1'editeur d'un des principaux journaux 
de Boston, a bien voulu nous promettre quelques documens 
sur 1'etat de la presse periodique en Amerique. Si vous 
aviez 1'occasion de le voir, seriez vous assez bon pour 
1'avertir du changement de nos projets et le prier de nous 
ecrire avant le I fevrier prochain ? 


"BOSTON, January n, 1832. 

"I should sooner have replied to your letter of the 2d of 
December, dated at Cincinnati, had I supposed you would 
have returned to Washington. I have not forgotten my 
promise to write the paper you desired, on the modes of 
municipal government in Massachusetts, and I will endeavor 
to answer the queries contained in your letter, as well as 
those which you left in writing before your departure from 
Boston. It is not easy to make the subject fully intelligible 
to a person unacquainted with the long practices and habits / 
of the people, but I may perhaps be able to give hints which 
will remove some of your difficulties. 

"As soon as you get this letter, please to inform me at 
what time you will sail from New York, and to* whose 
address in that city I shall send the paper. Should you not 
sail before the loth of February I shall probably see you in 
New York. 

14 Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqwville. [576 

"Let me observe to you, that Mr.Niles, the American Sec- 
retary of Legation in Paris, is a native of New England and 
has lived many years in this country, and will doubtless be 
able to explain many things to you respecting the details of 
managing our town affairs. 

"I am happy to inform you, that since your departure I 
have received letters from Paris, telling me that the govern- 
ment have permitted the papers to be examined, concerning 
which I conversed with you, and that a person is now em- 
ployed in that work. 

"In a few days I shall publish the Life of Gouverneur Mor- 
ris, formerly American Minister in France. It contains 
some curious matters about the French Revolution. He 
was in Paris from 1789 to 1794. When the work is pub- 
lished I shall beg the favor of you to accept a copy." 

Tocqueville's next letter to Sparks was written from Wash- 
ington. From Nashville he had gone to Memphis, thence 
by steamboat to New Orleans. From Louisiana the French 
travelers went to Montgomery, thence to Norfolk and 


WASHINGTON, January 20, 1832. 

J'ai trouve avant hier en arrivant ici, Monsieur, 1'aimable 
lettre que vous avez bien voulu m'ecrire en date de 1 1 de ce 
mois. Je me hate de vous informer, suivant le desir que 
vous m'en temoignez, que vous pouvez adresser les papiers 
que vous me destinez, a New York, care of Messrs. Prince, 
Ward, King & Co., chez qui nous nous empresserons de les 
aller prendre. J'espere que vous serez mieux encore, Mon- 
sieur ; et que vos affaires vous ameneront a New York avant 
notre depart de cette ville ; notre intention etant de ne nous 
embarquer que dans le paquebot du 10 fevrier prochain. 
Ce sera avec un bien vif plaisir, je vous assure, que je renou- 
verai avec vous les rapports agreables que nous avons eu a 

577] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 15 

Votre lettre m'apprend qu'enfin le gouvernement frangais 
vous accorde la permission que vous sollicitiez ; je m'en suis 
rejoui pour vous et aussi pour lui. Les obstacles qu'on vous 
opposait etaient miserables. Quant au reste, Monsieur, je 
suis presque tente de voir avec regret une mesure qui me 
prive de 1'esperance de vous etre utile. Si par hazard ce- 
pendant il se presentait encore en France quelque occasion 
de vous servir, veuillez, je vous prie, compter sur tous mes 

Je ne veux point terminer, Monsieur, sans vous remer- 
cier d'avance du present que vous comptez me faire. La 
vie de Gouverneur Morris est un ouvrage doublement pre- 
cieux pour moi; il traite en quelque sorte 1 de la France 
comme de I'Amerique et de plus il est ecrit par vous. 

Nous ne savons encore ou nous descendrons a New 
York; mais si vous voulez faire savoir votre adresse a Mr. 
Prince, nous nous haterons de vous aller chercher. M. de 
Beaumont me charge de le rappeler particulierement a 
votre souvenir. Agreez, pour moi, Monsieur, 1' assurance 
de ma consideration la plus distinguee. 


Just before Tocqueville sailed for Europe Sparks wrote 
him the following letter from 

"BOSTON, February 2, 1832. 

"In the enclosed memoir I have endeavored to give a 
general and condensed view of the system of town govern- 
ment in Massachusetts, embracing at the same time the 
answers to your queries. I have avoided going into details, 
because these are suggested by the 'Town Officer/ Such of 
your queries as did not seem to be fully answered in the 
memoir, I have considered separately at the end. 

"The Town Officer, you will remember, is only a selection 
from such parts of the laws of the State as pertain to towns, 
and presupposes in the reader a knowledge of the usages of 
the people. It is designed to point out the duties of town 

16 Jared Sparks and Ale.vis de Tocqueville. [578 

"You inquire whether all the officers there mentioned are 
in fact chosen and perform the duties prescribed. I believe 
they are all invariably chosen and their duties are for the 
most part discharged with a good deal of exactness in obedi- 
ence to the laws. It is rare, however, that the tythingmen 
stop people who travel on the Sabbath, but this is still some- 
times done. The duty of the Selectmen to apprehend pro- 
fane and immoral persons, to post up the names of drunk- 
ards, tipplers, gamblers, and the like, is exercised in flagrant 
cases. In the discharge of all such duties much depends, 
of course, on the judgment and discretion of the officers. 

"Should other queries arise in your mind after reading the 
memoir, I shall be very happy to answer them, and I trust 
you will at all times write to me freely on this or any other 
subject. My pursuits, researches, and observations make 
me well- acquainted with the political and municipal insti- 
tutions of the United States, and it will always give me pleas- 
ure to communicate to you any intelligence that may be in 
my power." 

Of historic interest to students of American local institu- 
tions will be the "Observations on the Government of 
Towns in Massachusetts," by Jared Sparks. These obser- 
vations have a double value for Americans : first, as record- 
ing the actual characteristics of New England town gov- 
ernment at the time Tocqueville wrote about it, and, second, 
as affording a means of comparison with Tocqueville's 
chapter v, Vol. I, in "Democracy in America." 

Mr. James Bryce prepared the way for his now famous 
work on our "American Commonwealth," by a critique of 
Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," 1 at a meeting of the 

J One of the fruits of Mr. Bryce's American studies and a pleasant 
souvenir of that evening with the Hopkins Historical Seminary was 
his paper on "The Predictions of Hamilton and De Tocqueville," 
published in the University Studies in September, 1887, Vol. V. No. 9. 
Bryce's "American Commonwealth" was published in the fall of 
1888. In the Fortnightly Review for October, 1882, through Mr. 

579] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 17 

Historical Seminary in the Johns Hopkins University. In 
this critique he was aided by the evidence given from vari- 
ous parts of the country by some of our graduate students, 
for example, Albert Shaw, now editor of The Review of Re- 
views, then a graduate student in Baltimore. 





In considering this subject, it is necessary to keep in 
mind the mode in which the country was originally settled. 
The first establishment was at Plymouth, and consisted of 
only one hundred and one persons, surrounded by a vast 
wilderness, uninhabited except by a few savages. As far 
as the rights and forms of government were concerned, the 
new settlers, when they landed, were in a state of nature. 
For mutual convenience and security they agreed on a sys- 
tem of social and political regulations, which had the effect 
of laws. This was the simplest form of a republic. Each 
person had a voice in the several councils, and all rules and 
decisions were established by a majority of voices. As cir- 
cumstances required it they adopted new regulations, or 
laws, but always upon the same principles, that is, the equal 
rights of each individual, and the power of a majority to 
control the whole. The people chose a governor, and other 
suitable officers for administering the government, to whom 
limited powers were granted and whose duties were pre- 
scribed by the people themselves. 

Within a few years other settlements were established by 
new emigrants from England, and being remote from the 
original settlement at Plymouth, and from each other, they 

Bryce's mediation, was published Albert Shaw's "Local Government 
in America," republished in the University Studies, Vol. I, No. 3, 
January, 1883, as "Local Government in Illinois." See original ab- 
stract in University Circular, May, 1882. See also N. Y. Times, Dec. 
10, 1898, Albert Shaw on "De Tocqueville." 

18 Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [580 

adopted similar modes of government, acting, for all essen- 
tial purposes, as independent republics, after the model and 
under the general guidance of the earliest establishment. 
In this way they soon acquired the knowledge and habits 
of local government, and from these habits, thus early 
rooted, and never abandoned, has been derived the present 
municipal system of New England. 

As the settlements increased in numbers it was conveni- 
ent for them to unite under some general form of govern- 
ment, in order to protect themselves against the Indians, 
and for other advantages common to all parties. There 
commenced the system of representation in proportion to 
the numbers of the people, and by a free suffrage in elec- 
tions, which is in fact the basis and the continuing support 
of all the political institutions. When the settlements, or 
towns as we may now call them, first agreed to this union, 
they had individually, in their own hands, the power which 
pertains to a social or political compact. Thence it is 
obvious that they would give up no more than was essential 
to the general interests without divesting themselves of their 
primitive rights or deranging their local forms of govern- 
ment already established. There again is another principle 
of the American institutions, which is, that a superior gov- 
ernment exercises such powers only as are delegated to it 
by an inferior, or, in other words, by the people. 

This united government formed by representatives from 
the settlements, was called the General Court, and it has 
retained the name ever since. Before the Revolution this 
was subject to various modifications by charters from Eng- 
land in which the king assumed more power than the peo- 
ple approved, leaving them little else than the appointment 
of representatives to one branch of the Legislature; but 
this never affected the municipal organization already de- 
scribed, and within the limits of a town, the people were 
always a body politic, acting, under certain restrictions, as 
an independent republic, in the regulation and control of 
their local affairs. 

581] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 19 

These preliminary remarks will prepare us for examining 
the system as it is now in operation. 


At first a town was an indefinite number of people living 
near each other, and associating for purposes of mutual 
benefit, without regard to the extent of land, or territory 
which they occupied. But after a general government was 
instituted, under a charter from the king of England, the 
towns possessed the power of incorporate bodies, and each 
town was usually defined by specified bounds; so that a 
town, or, as it was sometimes called, a township, embraced 
all the inhabitants residing within those bounds. Upon an 
average these townships are about six miles square, but 
varying as local circumstances and other causes required 
when they were formed. Hence the corporate powers of 
a town extend to a territorial jurisdiction, without reference 
to the number of people dwelling within the prescribed lim- 
its. These corporate powers are confirmed by acts of the 
Legislature, and exist in the nature of legal rights, founded 
on usage and early habits. Such are the elements of the 
present system of town governments. 

By the laws of the State certain duties are required of the 
towns in their corporate capacity, and certain privileges 
allowed. They are required to hold elections for the choice 
of a governor, lieutenant-governor, Senators, Representa- 
tives to the Legislature, and such town officers as are desig- 
nated in the laws. They are required to assess and collect 
taxes to keep the public roads in repair, to support religious 
worship and schools, and in general to execute all the laws 
which pertain exclusively to towns. Again they are allowed 
to make by-laws or regulations which do not contravene the 
laws of the State, to employ such clergymen, and in such 
numbers as they may think proper, to establish as many 
schools, and appoint such teachers as they choose, to lay out 
roads in- any part of the town, and to suspend for one year 

20 Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [582 

the operation of particular laws of the State which relate 
solely to some of the internal affairs of the town. 

These requisitions and privileges are common to all the 
towns in the State, or, in other words, the laws of the State 
are uniform and apply equally in their full extent to every 

There are a few unincorporated towns in the State, per- 
haps half a dozen, which have fewer privileges than the 
others, but when the number of rateable polls, or voters, 
amount to one hundred and fifty, they may become incor- 


The towns are required to hold town meetings at certain 
times, for the choice of State and town officers. They may 
also assemble in town meeting at any other time, for trans- 
acting the affairs of the town. In these meetings the legal 
voters only can act, and the will of the majority of those 
present is binding on the whole town. But in such case due 
notice of the meeting must have been given according to 
law. The principle is, that the majority rules in all town 
meetings, but that each voter shall know beforehand the 
time of the meeting, and the object for which it is to be con- 
vened. In the town meetings there is freedom of debate, 
and the voters present have a right to express their opinions 
fully on the subjects brought before the meeting. 


The selectmen are the principal officers of a town and are 
chosen annually. They can never be less than three in 
number, nor more than nine. They are assisted by a town 
clerk, who acts as secretary and performs other duties. The 
selectmen preside at the town meetings for the election of 
governor, lieutenant-governor, Senators and Representa- 
tives, but at the meetings for the town officers and transact- 
ing other town business, a moderator presides, who is chosen 

583] fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 21 

at the opening of the meeting, and has no powers except 
to preside for that occasion. The duties of the selectmen, 
like those of other town officers, are defined by law. Be- 
sides presiding at elections, they can lay out roads anywhere 
within the town, and watch over the morals and health of the 
inhabitants. They are guardians of the poor, when officers 
for that purpose are not specially chosen; they draw out 
jurors for attending the courts, and appoint certain subordi- 
nate officers as auctioneers, weighers, measurers, inspec- 
tors, and some others. In general it is the business of the 
selectmen to see that the laws which relate to the towns are 
executed, to preserve order, and to carry into effect the 
regulations of police. 


It is a principle that all taxes for the support of govern- 
ment, both in regard to the State and for executing town 
regulations, shall be levied on each individual in proportion 
to his property. A poll tax is also levied within a limited 
amount. But all direct taxes throughout the State are 
levied and collected by the towns. Once in ten years the 
Legislature appoints a committee, who receive returns of 
the quantity of lands and other kinds of property in the sev- 
eral towns. From these returns the committee make an 
estimate of the aggregate amount of property in each town, 
and this amount is the basis on which the tax of each town 
for State purposes is levied during the ten years following. 
Again, each town makes an annual valuation of the prop- 
erty of every individual within its limits, and apportions all 
taxes accordingly. 

There are three kinds of taxes, namely, for State, county, 
and town purposes. The State tax is apportioned by the 
Legislature to each town, according to its amount of prop- 
erty, and the portion which falls to each town is assessed 
by the town itself on the individuals within the town in pro- 
portion to their property. The same rule holds in respect 

22 fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [584 

to county taxes. The town taxes are those which the town 
itself imposes, either for the support of public worship, 
schools and roads, or for executing any local regulations of 
the town, which have been sanctioned by the vote of a major- 
ity in a town meeting. Hence, every kind of direct tax is 
ultimately apportioned and collected by the towns. The 
officers appointed for this purpose are assessors, collectors, 
and treasurer. They are chosen annually at a town meet- 
ing. The assessors determine the value of each person's 
property, and assign the amount of his tax. A list of the 
whole is given by them to the collectors, who collect the tax, 
and pay it over to the treasurers, that is, they pay the amount 
of the State tax to the treasurer of the State, the county tax 
to the treasurer of the county, and the town tax to the 
treasurer of the town. These treasurers pay out the money 
thus collected to persons authorized by law to receive it, 
and who appropriate it to its destined use in defraying the 
expenditures, voted either by the Legislature of the State, 
or by the town meetings. It will be seen by this process 
that the people literally tax themselves either by their rep- 
resentatives in the Legislature or by their own votes in 
town meetings, and determine in what way the money shall 
be expended. All taxes are assessed and collected by offi- 
cers residing among the people, and chosen by them, and 
who are acquainted with the persons and property of each 


The school system in Massachusetts dates its origin at 
the first settlement of the towns. It has been the theory 
and the practice from the beginning, that every child in the 
community should be taught reading and the other useful 
branches of education. It may safely be added that this 
has been the foundation from which all our republican insti- 
tutions have arisen and upon which they now stand. Free- 
dom in civilized society cannot exist without intelligence. 
So thoroughly have the people been convinced of this prin- 

585] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 23 

ciple, and so rigidly have they adhered to it, that the laws 
have not only provided for schools but made it compulsory 
upon parents or guardians to send their children to these 
schools till they shall be suitably instructed. In cases of 
neglect on the part of parents, either through poverty or 
carelessness, it is the duty of the selectmen to take charge of 
the children and see that they are properly educated. 

Every town in which there are fifty families is required by 
law to maintain a school at least six months in the year. 
Where the towns are larger, the schools are to be multiplied 
in proportion to the number of families. As these laws 
originated in the disposition and habits of the people, there 
has never been any reluctance in carrying them into execu- 
tion. On the contrary, there are very few towns in the 
State, perhaps none, in which the number of schools and 
the provisions for instruction are not greater than the law 
exacts. In the principal towns there are schools of a higher 
order, and academies, also private schools which are sup- 
ported at the voluntary charge of individuals. 


The size and population of the towns make it necessary 
that more than one school should be established in each. 
To effect this a town has the power by a vote in town meet- 
ing to divide itself into districts, in each of which a school 
is established. These districts vary in number from five to 
twelve, or perhaps more or less, according to the extent of 
the town. In this way a school is brought within a con- 
venient distance of every family. 


To superintend the affairs of the schools a committee is 
annually chosen at a town meeting. It is the business of 
this committee to examine and ascertain the literary and 
moral qualifications of the instructors, to visit the schools 
at certain times, to decide on the kind of books to be used, 

24 Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [586 

and see that the schools are provided with them, and also 
to report annually to the Legislature of the State the amount 
of money paid for schools, the number of districts in each 
town, the number of pupils, and the length of time which 
the schools have been kept. The districts have power co 
choose a person from among themselves, called a pruden- 
tial committeeman, who takes care that the schoolhouse is 
kept in repair, that fuel is provided, and whatever else is 
necessary for the immediate convenience and comfort of the 
teacher and pupils. The districts may also select their own 
teachers, but they must be approved by the school commit- 
tee of the town. 

The school tax is assessed on the whole town, like any 
other tax, and is paid out to the districts in proportion to 
the population in each, or to the number of pupils, as the 
town may agree. If any district wishes the school to be 
kept for a longer time-than is provided for by their portion 
of the town tax, they may tax themselves for that purpose 
to any extent they choose, but in this case the school is in 
the nature of a private school, and not under the control of 
the town, nor are any persons required to pay but such as 
send their children or voluntarily agree to contribute their 
share. It is not uncommon for schools to be continued, at 
the voluntary charge of a district, beyond the time provided 
for by the town. The school committees have in no case 
anything to do with the private schools. They act only in 
those instances where money is paid from the general tax. 

In nearly all the towns the schools are kept for a longer 
time than is required by law. In the larger towns some of 
the schools are continued through the year, but for the most 
part they are kept for about three months in winter by a 
male teacher, and three or four, months in summer by a 
female teacher. The school committee visit all the schools 
in the town twice in the winter and twice in the summer. 

587] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 25 


The Constitution and laws of Massachusetts require that 
public worship, after some form of the Protestant religion, 
shall be supported in each town. This provision, like many 
others, had its origin in the first settlement of the country. 
The emigrants were dissenters from the Church of Eng- 
land who, from the strictness and peculiarity of their faith, 
were called Puritans. Their social and political organiza- 
tions partook of their ecclesiastical spirit, and the affairs of 
state and of religion became mingled in a manner not very 
consistent with republican freedom or a wise administration 
of government. The defects of this system, however, have 
been gradually wearing away. Salutary changes have been 
introduced from time to time, and it may be expected that 
the intelligence and good sense of the people will soon effect 
a total separation between all matters of religion and poli- 
tics. In fact, as things now stand, there is very little hard- 
ship upon any one in conforming to the laws, but the prin- 
ciple of compulsion in religious concerns is radically wrong, 
an encroachment upon conscience and an unjust assump- 
tion of power. It is one of those cases in which early preju- 
dices, habit, and accidental causes, may pervert the sense of 
a majority and operate against the equal rights of the whole. 
It will be corrected by time and experience. 


When the first towns were settled the inhabitants were all 
of the same religious faith, that is, dissenters from the Eng- 
lish Church, and calling themselves, from that circumstance, 
"Independents." Hence it was natural and easy for them 
to unite in supporting the same form of worship. All the 
people in the town could attend at one meeting-house and 
listen to the preaching of one clergyman. It was conveni- 
ent, therefore, to regulate their parish and town affairs in 
the same manner, and to vote money and assess taxes upon 

26 Tared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [588 

the same principle for each. Church and state were thus 
united in a single settlement, or town. As the towns in- 
creased in number a political union was formed, and the 
General Court, or Legislature, was established, laws were 
passed for supporting the local institutions as they then ex- 
isted, applicable equally to each town, and to such towns 
as should afterwards be settled or incorporated. These 
laws accorded with the voice of the people ; they were sanc- 
tioned by custom, and under various modifications they 
have continued till the present day. In some of the towns 
of larger extent, as the inhabitants multiplied, it was found 
necessary to have more than one place of worship. For 
this purpose the towns were, in some instances, divided into 
territorial districts, and each district was a parish, empow- 
ered to act for itself in whatever pertained to the support of 
religion, such as employing a clergyman, building a meet- 
ing-house, and the like, but in every other respect the in- 
habitants of such district or parish were an integral part of 
the town, partaking the privileges and subject to the con- 
trol of the town meetings. 


The parishes above described have a territorial extent, 
that is, .they either embrace a whole town or a definite por- 
tion, which has been set off by fixed boundaries. But there 
is another kind of parishes, more commonly called religious 
societies, or congregations, which are constituted upon a 
different principle. In the compact and populous towns, 
the people would of course have a preference for a clergy- 
man or religious congregation, without regard to the part 
of the town in which the meeting-house was situated. To 
accommodate this preference distinct societies were allowed 
to be formed by any number of persons who chose to asso- 
ciate for the purpose of supporting religious worship. 
Again, the forms of religious faith began to multiply, and 
Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and 

589] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 27 

other sects claimed the privilege of supporting worship 
according to their own views. These sects likewise organ- 
ized themselves into separate societies. Such has been the 
practice from early times. These societies possess all the 
powers of a territorial parish and are subject to the same 
laws, being corporate bodies, and acting with perfect free- 
dom in the regulation of their religious affairs. 

The contract between a clergyman and a parish is consid- 
ered for life, unless it is otherwise expressed in the terms 
of the contract. Hence no parish can dismiss a clergyman 
without his consent, except for improper conduct. The 
common mode of dismissal is for each party to choose per- 
sons to form a council, who examine and judge the case. If 
the council decide that there is just cause for a separation, 
the parish are no longer bound to pay the clergyman's sal- 
ary, and of course the contract is dissolved. But disability 
on account of personal weakness, ill-health, or age, is not a 
sufficient cause for dismissing a clergyman. 

The principle of the laws concerning religion, as they 
now stand, is that every person in the State who pays taxes 
shall contribute to the support of some form of religious 
worship, but the particular form of worship, and manner of 
supporting it, are left to his own option. For this purpose 
the parishes, or- societies, may tax themselves in the same 
way as a town. Any person may also leave one parish, or 
society, and join another by giving due notice. But who- 
ever resides in a town is subject to pay a tax to the oldest 
parish, unless he gives notice in legal form that he belongs 
to some other. But it is not necessary that the society to 
which he belongs, or professes to belong, should be in the 
town in which he lives. It may be in any part of the State. 
Should he belong to a religious society in which it costs 
nothing, or very little, to support public worship, as is the 
case with the Methodists, whose clergymen are traveling 
preachers, then he is not taxed at all. It is common for 
some societies to support their preachers by voluntary con- 
tributions, and then there is no tax. 

28 Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [590 


When the townships were originally surveyed and laid 
out they consisted either wholly or mostly of wild and un- 
cultivated lands. For the convenience of the first settlers 
it was customary to reserve a tract near the center of the 
town, which was held in common by the inhabitants. 
Within this tract it became the practice to let cattle, horses, 
and other domestic animals run at large, and as every in- 
habitant owned a share, by virtue of his residence in the 
town, it was open to the use of all. Hence it was neces- 
sary that the cultivated fields should be well enclosed when- 
ever they bordered on the highways, to prevent the en- 
croachments of these animals. Every man had a right, also, 
to let his cattle run freely on his own lands, and hence the 
necessity of good fences between himself and his neighbors. 
The farms were small and this increased the extent of boun- 
daries between the lands of different persons. From these 
circumstances it will be seen that laws were required to 
regulate the mode of enclosing fields, and to fix penalties 
for the depredations made by cattle. 

For executing these laws the towns appoint officers, called 
fence-viewers, field-drivers, and hog-reeves. Their duties 
are important in preserving peace and harmony among 
neighbors. As the laws restricting cattle from running in 
the highways pertain exclusively to the interests of a single 
town without affecting those of the State at large, any town 
has the right to suspend the operation of these laws by a 
vote of the majority, for a term not exceeding one year. 


Such are the general principles of the municipal or town 
governments of Massachusetts, and for the most part of all 
the New England States except that of supporting religion 
by law, which is now peculiar to Massachusetts, though it 
formerly pertained to some of the other States. The ruling 

591] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 29 

features are the system of election and the prevailing power 
of the majority to govern the whole. The laws of the State 
on municipal subjects have grown out of the early habits 
and previous usages of the towns, and by producing uni- 
formity they now consolidate them into one political body, 
at the same time that they allow all the liberty requisite for 
local self-government. The laws are made by representa- 
tives sent from the towns. The representatives are accus- 
tomed to act constantly as political agents in managing 
town affairs, and from the habit of acting upon the same 
principles, though living in different parts of the State, they 
come together with similar views and are qualified to judge 
of the nature, utility and consequences of any laws designed 
to affect the whole. Hence the groundwork of the State 
government is in the towns, and each town is in some sort 
an epitome of the State. To abridge their liberties, or re- 
strain their power of political action, would be to undermine 
and destroy the whole fabric. 

It will be observed that the powers of the towns are 
mostly of an executive kind. They choose officers to effect 
certain purposes prescribed by the laws, both in regard to 
their internal concerns and the welfare of the State. They 
have a limited legislative power, enabling them to adopt 
municipal regulations which do not conflict with the laws of 
the State, but they have no judicial powers whatever, either 
for criminal or civil purposes. These powers are in the 
hands of judiciary officers appointed by the State. All 
breaches of the law must come before the courts thus organ- 
ized, and a town itself as a corporate body is amenable to 
the same tribunal. 


i. "7s there a permanent executive power in the towns, 
and by whom is this power exercised ? ' ' 

Every town has all the power requisite for executing the 
municipal laws of the State, and such other regulations as 

30 fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [592 

the town itself may make when assembled in town meet- 
ings. This power is exercised by the selectmen and other 
officers chosen by the people for that purpose. Although 
the power is permanent in the towns, it can never exist more 
than one year in the hands of any particular officers, unless 
they are chosen anew. All the town elections are annual. 

2. " Can a town effect any enterprise without applying to a 
higher power ? Can a town buy and sell, contract loans, and 
maintain actions in a court of Justice f ' ' 

As the towns are corporate bodies, they can hold prop- 
erty, buy and sell, contract loans, bring suits in the courts, 
and transact any other business common to corporations. 
All such affairs are decided in town meetings by a majority. 
If a specific object were to be effected, a purchase made, a 
loan contracted, or a suit prosecuted, the practice would be 
to call a town meeting, and the people would authorize the 
selectmen to manage the affair, or appoint separate com- 
missioners for that specific object. The credit of a town is 
always good because the whole property of the inhabitants, 
or any part of it, may be seized for the payment of a debt 
which has been contracted in consequence of a vote in a 
town meeting. Towns may also be sued in the courts by 
other corporate bodies, or by individuals who dwell in the 
town or anywhere else. If a laborer or any other person 
has a demand against a town for services rendered accord- 
ing to a contract with the selectmen, he may sue the town 
and collect his demand in the courts. Every person's prop- 
erty in the town is held liable to be taken to satisfy such a 

It is a rule that the majority governs, but in imposing 
taxes there is a limit to this power. If an unequal or unjust 
tax is laid by a town meeting, or one for effecting an object 
that does not promote a general benefit, any individual 
aggrieved has a remedy in the courts of law. He must pay 
the tax in compliance with the vote of the town, but he may 
then prosecute the town for the amount of his tax and bring 

593] fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocquevillc. 31 

the matter before a court of justice. This tribunal will de- 
cide whether the tax was legal, and if not, the town is 
obliged to pay back the amount. This case rajely occurs, 
because it can seldom happen that a majority of the people, 
living scattered as they do throughout the town, will vote 
to tax themselves for an object that is not for the public 

j. ' ' Can two or more towns unite in a common object f 
Can they establish relations between each other f ' ' 

Towns can establish no relations between each other with- 
out the consent of the Legislature. For instance, two 
towns cannot assemble and act together in one town meet- 
ing. Such a thing probably never happened, and if it 
should the acts of the meeting would be illegal and void. 
They may agree to unite in accomplishing any object com- 
mon to the interests of both, but this must be done by 
authority conferred on the selectmen or other officials by 
each town separately. 

4. "Can the towns present petitions to the Legislature col- 

Every town, every corporation, every society and every 
individual in the State has a right to present petitions to the 
Legislature. Consequently, two or more towns may peti- 
tion for the same thing, but the common mode would be for 
them to present separate petitions. 

5. "To what extent does the Legislature interfere with the 
internal administration of the towns f ' ' 

The Legislature has nothing to do with the municipal 
affairs of the towns, except as occasion may require to make 
and amend the laws which regulate generally the town gov- 
ernments. These laws, as heretofore observed, apply 
equally to every town, and the representatives themselves, 
who constitute the Legislature, and by whom the laws are 

32 Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [594 

made, are inhabitants of the respective towns and chosen 
annually by the people. 

6. " What is the precise meaning of the term corpora- 

A corporation is a body politic, or an assembly of persons 
authorized to act as an individual, to the extent of the powers 
granted them by law. There are two kinds of corporations, 
namely, such as are formed by acts of the Legislature with a 
specific name and for some definite purpose, and such as 
possess corporate powers from the nature of the privileges 
allowed them by the laws. Of the first kind are colleges, 
insurance offices, banks, hospitals, manufacturing compan- 
ies, and the like. Towns, parishes and school districts are of 
the second kind ; that is, no town, parish, or school district 
has ever been incorporated by an express act of the Legis- 
lature, but the powers granted them by law are such as 
could not be exercised except by a corporate body. Hence 
they are in fact corporations, and are called such, or rather 
in technical phrase, quasi corporations. The corporation of 
a city is of the first kind' and constituted by an act of the 
Legislature. Boston is the only city in the commonwealth. 
Toutes les autres villes sont towns. 

7. " What is the general system of constructing roads and 
keeping them in repair ? ' ' 

The Legislature has the power to make roads in any part 
of the State. But this power is never exercised directly by 
the Legislature. It is the business of the counties and 
towns to make and repair the roads. When a new road is 
to be laid out, which passes through more than one town, 
it must be done by the county commissioners. The value 
of the land through which any such road passes, is also de- 
termined by the commissioners, and the amount is paid out 
of the county treasury to the owners of the land, in pro- 
portion to the claim of each. The first expense of making 

595] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 33 

a new road of this sort is paid by the county, but it is after- 
wards kept in repair by the towns. The tax for making the 
road is apportioned to each town in the county and col- 
lected in the usual way. A town may lay out roads anywhere 
within its own territory, but has no right to run them into 
another town without the consent of that town. 

Hence there are two kinds of roads, called county roads, 
and town roads, but the duty and expense of keeping them 
in repair devolve wholly on the towns. The method is for 
the town to assess a highway tax on the inhabitants and 
appoint surveyors of highways. The selectmen may divide 
the town into districts, or prescribe the limits within which 
each surveyor is to act. It is the duty of a surveyor to see 
that all the roads within his district are repaired at certain 
times, and also whenever they are out of order. For this 
purpose he can call on each inhabitant of his district to pay 
the amount of his tax, either in labor or money. The com- 
mon practice is for the people to work on the roads them- 
selves, their labor being estimated at a fixed price. But 
this is optional, and they may pay their tax in money if they 
prefer it, and with this the surveyor will employ other labor- 
ers. All the inhabitants of the district are interested in 
keeping the roads in repair, because these roads. are mainly 
for their own use. 

Turnpike roads are made by incorporated companies, 
who petition the Legislature for the privilege of making a 
road between one place and another, and by a specific route. 
The road is laid out by the company, and the lands through 
which it passes are valued by the county commissioners and 
paid for by the company. The road is then made and kept 
in repair at the expense of the company, and a toll is allowed 
for their remuneration. The property of the road then be- 
comes a stock, which is divided into shares that may be 
bought and sold like the property of any other incorporated 
body. The toll is the income of these shares. 

Canals and railroads are constructed upon the same prin- 
ciples. They are never made by the Legislature but by 

34 fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [596 

voluntary companies. The Legislature may buy shares, 
but when this is done it is generally with the view of en- 
couraging some public work. There is no compulsion on 
the towns to aid in such enterprises. But it is a principle 
of the Constitution, that every person whose property is 
taken for a public use shall receive a full equivalent. 
Hence, whenever a new road or canal passes through any 
person's land, he is to be paid for all the damage he thus 

8. "From what class are the teachers of schools generally 
chosen f Are there any clergymen amo?tg them ?* ' 

This depends on the kind of school, whether primary or 
of a higher order. In the large towns there is commonly 
one or more schools kept through the year. The teachers 
of such schools have usually been educated at some college 
or academy and make teaching the occupation of their lives. 
But the subordinate schools, which are kept only for a part 
of the year, are mostly taught by young men who are stu- 
dents in a college or academy and who are allowed to leave 
these institutions for two or three months. In the summer 
the same schools are kept by young women who have been 
suitably educated. At this season the small children only 
attend the schools, as the labor of the boys and larger pupils 
is wanted on the farms and in the families. There is, also, 
a well-informed class of men in the community who are 
capable of teaching the primary schools in the winter, and 
who are engaged in farming or other occupations the rest 
of the year. Clergymen sometimes take private pupils into 
their own families, but they rarely engage in public instruc- 
tion when connected with a parish. A large portion of the 
ablest men in New England have been teachers of town 
schools while obtaining their collegiate education. 

p. <( What part does religion occupy in the instruction at 
the schools?" 

The discretion of the teacher, or the directions of the 
school committees, are the only guides on this subject. 

597] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 35 

These again will be modified by the religious tenets of the 
people ; and as these vary on account of the variety of sects, 
no system is followed. In many schools the New Testa- 
ment is used as a class-book, but religious dogmas, or what 
may be called sectarian tenets, are rarely taught in schools. 
Formerly this was more the practice than at present, because 
the religious sentiments of the people were more alike. 

10. "Are the effects of education uniformly good? Does 
it not happen that a man, who obtains an education superior 
to his social condition, becomes an inquiet and turbulent 
citizen ?' ' 

No such evil has ever been experienced as a consequence 
of education. On the contrary, our ablest men, best states- 
men, and truest patriots have been those who have arisen 
from the humble ranks of society and made their way by 
the force of their talents, enlightened and guided by a good 
education. In a republic it will ever be found that igno- 
rance is the germ of factions. Security rests in the intelli- 
gence of the mass, and where this intelligence is widely 
diffused it serves as a check upon the improper designs and 
unlicensed ambition of the few, who may be inclined to take 
advantage of their superior talents or attainments. Nothing 
can be done without moving the people, and where they 
understand the nature of their political rights, and the man- 
ner of exercising them for their own benefit, it is a difficult 
matter to enlist them in a cause of disorganization which 
they see must redound to their injury. Everybody can read 
the newspapers, and almost everybody does read them. All 
kinds of political topics are there discussed, and the people 
become acquainted with the principles of their institutions, 
the proceedings of their Legislatures and the entire machin- 
ery of the government. They watch strictly the conduct 
of every public officer, and hold in their hands the controll- 
ing power of elections. The surest road to success for any 
aspiring man is to convince the people by his conduct, that 

86 fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [598 

he respects their rights and will maintain them, that he de- 
sires social order, and is true to the principles upon which 
it is founded. In this state of things it would be weak 
policy in a man of high education, who aims to advance 
himself in a political career, to seek by intrigue and violence 
what he can attain much more easily by frankness, honesty, 
and patriotism. 

if. "Is the whole town often consulted? What is the 
character of these assemblies ? How can delicate affairs be 
transacted, and at the same time any uniform system of ad- 
ministration be followed? Do not these meetings become 
centres of intrigues, and are they not, like all other great 
assemblies, often influenced more by the passions than by 
argiiment ?' ' 

The practice of town meetings has heretofore been ex- 
plained. The people never assemble, except according to 
the laws and for a specific purpose. The object of the meet- 
ing is made known beforehand by a public notification. 
There are no delicate matters to transact. Everything is 
public, and every person is interested in what is to be done, 
and in the end the majority decides and the minority must 
submit. The laws, usages, and habits are the guides. If 
the majority acts against law, there is a remedy for the 
minority in the courts of justice. The common affairs of 
the town are seldom of a kind to excite the passions. It 
will undoubtedly sometimes happen, when some new enter- 
prise is to be undertaken, that different interests will clash, 
and there will be warmth of debates in the meetings, and ef- 
forts of a party to carry particular points, but all must at last 
conform to the will of the majority. There has never been an 
instance in which the peace of the State was disturbed by the 
wrangling of towns. Besides any number of persons can 
petition the Legislature for redress when the case is not 
properly met by existing laws. The most valuable feature 
of the system is, that the rules of town governments are pre- 
cisely the same throughout the State, so that the laws are 

599] fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 37 

uniform, easily understood, and easily explained. This like- 
wise preserves a uniformity in the habits, manners, and po- 
litical views of the people. As before observed, the laws in 
regard to towns have not been made for producing new or- 
ganizations, but rather to define and confirm ancient and 
long established customs. 

12. <( 7s it not found that the poor have a secret envy of 
the rich, so that the former class, always the majority, will 
sometimes oppress the . latter, and exclude them in elections 
from public affairs ?" 

Human nature is the same here as in other countries, and 
of course similar passions will exist, and produce similar 
effects to a certain extent. But these will everywhere be 
modified by the condition of society. In New England the 
number of the class that may be called rich is exceedingly 
small, except in the cities and large commercial towns. 
Almost every inhabitant owns the farm in fee simple upon 
which he lives. The system of tenantry and rents hardly 
exists, and the law of entails is unknown. Hence there can 
be no rich families, and nearly all the richest men in the 
country have arisen from small beginnings and made their 
own fortunes. That is, the rich have once been poor, and 
although wealth gives them influence, it seldom excites 
jealousy. Besides, wealth procures no political privileges 
and no exemption from the duties of a citizen. Every man, 
however large his property, must contribute his due share 
to the support of government. The rich man's vote is the 
same as the poor man's. The man of small property, whose 
talents and attainments are of a superior order, will com- 
monly be preferred in elections to the rich man, yet the mere 
circumstances of wealth, if all other qualifications are equal, 
will operate but little in excluding a man from an office. 
Character, ability and fidelity in discharging the duties of an 
office are the principal recommendations, and where these 
are found combined with wealth they will have their weight. 
On the other hand, the voters in all the elections are so 

38 fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [600 

numerous that it would not be possible for any man, how- 
ever rich, to decide an election by means of his wealth. 

13. " What are Counties and Districts ?" 

A county is a territory which embraces a certain number 
of towns situated in contact with each other. The inhab- 
itants never assemble in meetings as in the towns. The 
functions of county officers relate to such objects as pertain 
to all the towns, but such as are not discharged by any town 
officers. Each county contains a court house, jail, sheriff, 
coroners, probate of wills, recorder of wills, and county 
commissioners. All these officers are appointed by the 
Governor and Council. Justices of the peace are also county 
officers, and appointed in the same way. In whatever town 
any of these officers may reside, their authority extends over 
the whole county. Their duties are defined by law, and de- 
pend in no manner on the people. The higher courts of 
the commonwealth are held at stated times in the counties. 

A District is a nominal division of territory merely for 
electing representatives to Congress and the State Legisla- 
ture, and varies from time to time as the population in- 
creases, and as the legislature may decide. A town is a dis- 
trict for choosing Representatives to the Legislature ; a 
county is a district for Senators ; and, for members of Con- 
gress, the State is divided into as many districts as there are 
members sent from the State. The principle of this system 
is, that each part of the State shall be represented as nearly 
as possible in the ratio of the number of inhabitants in that 
part, and also that the representatives shall be taken from 
among the people by whom they are chosen. 


When Tocqueville's "Democratic en Amerique" was 
published, Mr. Sparks endeavored to secure its translation 
and reproduction in this country. Correspondence upon 
this subject is preserved among the Sparks papers now in 

601] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 89 

the Library of Harvard University. On the 6th of June, 
1837, after a letter from Tocqueville, Mr. Sparks wrote: "I 
am vexed and mortified that an edition of your "Democratic" 
has not yet been published in America. The causes might be 
explained, but I can only hint at them in this letter. The 
work came out just at the time of the unfortunate "Indem- 
nity Controversy," and then General Jackson's war spirit be- 
gan to stir up in the people a hostile feeling towards France. 
Hence little interest was felt for a book by a French writer. 
Again, our newspapers have been filled with extracts from 
the English reviews, containing the parts of your work most 
objectionable to American readers ; that is, your remarks on 
the defects of Democratic institutions. But you may be 
assured that all the intelligent persons among us who have 
read your treatise have applauded its ability and candor. I 
have pressed several publishing houses to republish the 
English translation. Three months ago I had nearly com- 
pleted an arrangement with a house in Boston, and almost 
consented to write a preface and notes suited to American 
readers, but at that moment an advertisement appeared in 
the newspapers by a publisher in New York, announcing 
that he should immediately put it to press. I have heard 
nothing about it since, and I presume the terrible commer- 
cial disasters, which have prostrated all enterprise, have sus- 
pended, if not defeated, the execution of his design. 

"As to your new work, I will enquire of the publishers, 
and ascertain what can be done. From my knowledge of 
their habits of doing business, however, I cannot hope that 
they will undertake it on such terms as to afford you any pe- 
cuniary compensation. The reason is that a foreign author 
cannot secure a copyright in the United States, and the pub- 
lishers pay no respect to each other, but republish cheaper 
editions, and thus mar the sale and diminish the profits of 
the first edition. In this state of things, no publisher will 
venture to pay money for a foreign book, the success of 
which can only be proved by the trial. 

40 fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [602 

"At all events, I wish you to send me the proofs of your 
work as fast as they are printed, and I will do the best that 
I can. Should it be printed here I will take care that it 
shall be put into the hands of a good translator, and that the 
book shall be brought before the public in a respectable 
form. The manuscript can be sent for your revision. Let 
me know whether you give me full discretion to act in the 
matter. You will hear from me again soon. Pray inform 
me whether the English translation of your 'Democratic' is 
a good one, and was revised by yourself. Direct to me at 
Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I am at present residing." 


PARIS, ce ii Septembre, 1835. 

Mon cher Monsieur Sparks En revenant a Paris, il y a 
quelques jours, j'ai regu une tres aimable lettre de vous et 
un livre fort interessant que vous aviez bien voulu y joindre. 
Vous devez trouver fort etrange que je n'aie pas repondu 
plus tot a la premiere et remercie du second. Vous me 
pardonnerez, j'espere, mon silence en apprenant que je 
viens de passer cinq mois en Angleterre. Le paquet que 
vous m'avez adresse est parvenu pendant ce terns a ma de- 
meure a Paris et ne m'a ete remis qu'au retour. 

Je suis tres curieux de savoir ce que vous avez pense du 
livre que j'ai public sur la Democratic Americaine. Les 
critiques me sont toujours tres precieuses, mais elles ont un 
prix particulier a mes yeux lorsque'elles viennent d' un 
homme aussi eclaire que vous et que j'aime a compter au 
nombre de mes amis. Je vous serais done infiniment oblige 
d'examiner avec soin cet ouvrage, de relever les erreurs qu'il 
pent contenir et me les signaler sans pitie. Ce serait me 
rendre un service d'autant plus grand que je vais bientot 
proceder a une revision generale. Le livre a deja eu deux 
editions. On en prepare une troisieme et pour celle-ci je 
serais tres heureux de pouvoir profiter de votre experience. 

603] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 41 

Je n'ai pas entendu dire que cet ouvrage ait ete traduit ni 
meme revu en Amerique. II a ete Tun et 1'autre en Angle- 

Pendant mon sejour aLondresJ'ai ete re$u avec beaucoup 
de bienveillance dans la maison de Lord Holland. Causant 
avec lui, il m'est arrive de citer votre nom et Lord Holland, 
m'interrompant, m'a fait tin grand eloge de vous. II pre- 
tend vous avoir fourni sur la Revolution d' Amerique des 
documens curieux que vous avez mis en lumiere. C'est 
avec un tres grand plaisir, je vous assure, que je lui ai en- 
tendu dire de vous tout le bien que j'en pense. 

J'ai rencontre a Dublin un de nos amis de Boston Mr. 
Ticknor. Nous avons encore beaucoup parle de vous et de 
tous ceux qui m'ont temoigne tant de bienveillance dans 
votre pays. Je ne leur ai fait qu'un reproche, c'est d'habiter 
si loin de nous. 

Adieu, Monsieur Sparks, recevez, je vous prie, 1'assu- 
rance de ma consideration la plus distinguee. 

P. S. Je vais vous faire passer un exemplaire de mon 
ouvrage. J'espere que vous voudrez bien le recevoir comme 
un nouveau gage de mon amitie. 


PARIS, 14 January, 1837. 

Mon cher Monsieur Sparks. Un des mes amis s'occupe 
en ce moment a traduire la vie de Gouverneur Morris et il 
s'est adresse a moi pour vous faire parvenir la priere sui- 
vante : on trouve dans votre ouvrage sept a huit lettres de 
frangais celebres tels que Lafayette, Mme. de Stael .... 
que vous avez du traduire en anglais. Vous sentez que 
cette correspondance serait de nature a interesser particu- 
lierement notre public et qu'il serait bien important de 
pouvoir lui donner non la traduction de votre traduction, 
mais les textes originaux. Si done vous pouviez, sans vous 
gener, faire copier les lettres en question ou tout au moins 
les principales d'entre elles, vous rendriez un grand service 
a mon ami et vous me feriez un veritable plaisir. 

42 Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [604 

Je passe maintenant, si vous le voulez bien, a une autre 
affaire: vous savez peut-etre que dans ce moment je tra- 
vaille a completer mon grand ouvrage sur TAmerique en 
montrant 1'influence de 1'egalite des conditions sur les 
moeurs. Cette seconde partie du livre formera deux volumes 
comme la premiere et sera livree a Timpression vers le mois 
de decembre prochain. Pensez-vous qu'un libraire Ameri- 
cain pourrait trouver son interet a faire faire la traduction 
de ces deux volumes et que, dans ce cas, il ne lui importerait 
pas de recevoir les epreuves a mesure qu'elles auraient ete 
corrigees par mpi? De cette maniere sa traduction parai- 
trait en Amerique presq'aussitot que 1'original en Europe 
et il n'y aurait pas de concurrence a craindre. J'ai pense, 
mon cher Monsieur Sparks, que vous ne refuseriez pas de 
consulter quelques libraries des Etats-Unis a ce sujet et que 
vous auriez 1'obligeance de me faire connaitre leurs condi- 
tions, s'ils avaient a m'en proposer. 

Vous pardonnerez, j'espere, la double demande que con- 
tient cette lettre, a un homme qui ne peut s'empecher de 
compter un peu sur votre amitie, parce qu'il vous en con- 
serve lui-meme une tres veritable. 

Recevez, je vous prie, mon cher Monsieur Sparks, Tas- 
surance de ma consideration la plus distinguee. 

Mr. Sparks caused a translation to be made of Tocque- 
ville's excellent report on the emancipation of slaves 1 in the 
French Islands, and it was published in the North American 
Review, circa July, 1840. Sparks thus rendered consider- 
able practical service to Tocqueville in promoting his inter- 
ests in America; and, on the other hand, Tocqueville aided 
Sparks in procuring original French materials for Ameri- 
can history. Tocqueville also arranged for a French trans- 
tion of Sparks' edition of the "Life and Correspondence 

1 De Tocqueville's studies of the abolition movement in Europe 
and in the Indies are too little known in America. See his Etudes 
6conomiques et Litte"raires: "De Emancipation des esclaves." 
See also his Ancien Regime, on the "Date de 1'abolition du servage 
en Allemagne." 

605] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 43 

of Gouverneur Morris." In one of his letters upon this 
work to Tocqueville, June 6, 1837, Sparks expresses great 
regret that certain extracts from the diary of Morris had 
given offense, according to James Fenimore Cooper's re- 
port to the family of Lafayette : "It gives me pain to know 
that anything has passed through my hands to the public 
which should wound the sensibility of any person interested 
in the fair fame of that distinguished friend to America and 
the human race. Whatever Europeans may think, you are 
well aware that every American cherishes and ever will 
cherish an ardent affection for the name and the character 
of Lafayette. I hope nothing will appear in the work (the 
French edition) therefore, which shall tend in the least de- 
gree to his disparagement. It will be allowable for the 
translator to make omissions where he chooses." As is well 
known, Mr. Sparks had his own views upon the subject of 
editorial duty to the living as well as to the dead. It is un- 
necessary to apologize for him or for his methods. Pos- 
terity will do a just man justice. 


Mr. Sparks himself, while very friendly to Tocqueville, 
did not hesitate to criticise his somewhat doctrinaire views 
of American politics. Writing, February i, 1841, to Major 
Poussin, of Paris, author of a book on the government and 
institutions of the United States, Mr. Sparks said: "Your 
criticisms on M. de Tocqueville's work also accord for the 
most part with my own sentiments. Notwithstanding the 
great ability with which his book is written, the extent of 
his intelligence, and his profound discussions of many im- 
portant topics, I am persuaded that his theories, particu- 
larly when applied to the United States, sometimes lead him 

"For instance, in what he says of the tyranny of the major- 
ity, I think he is entirely mistaken. His ideas are not veri- 
fied by experience. The tyranny of the majority, if exer- 
cised at all, must be in the making of laws ; and any evil 

44 Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [606 

arising from this source operates in precisely the same man- 
ner on the majority itself as on the minority. Besides, if 
the majority passes an oppressive law, or a law which the 
people generally disapprove, this majority will certainly be 
changed at the next election, and be composed of different 
elements. M. de Tocqueville's theory can only be true 
where the majority is an unchangeable body and where it 
acts exclusively on the minority, as distinct from itself, a 
state of things which can never occur where the elections are 
frequent and every man has a voice in choosing the legis- 

In a letter to Professor William Smyth, of Cambridge; 
England, October 13, 1841, Mr. Sparks criticises the for- 
mer's lectures on ''America," for this reason : "I think too 
much confidence is placed in M. de Tocqueville's ideas of the 
'tyranny of the majority.' On this subject his imagination 
leads him far astray. In practice we perceive no such con- 
sequences as he supposes. If the majority were large and 
always consisted of the same individuals, such a thing 
might be possible ; but with us, as in all free governments, 
parties are nearly equal, and the elections are so frequent 
that a man who is in the majority at one time is likely to 
find himself in the minority a few months afterwards. What 
inducement has a majority thus constituted to be oppres- 
sive? Moreover, M. de Tocqueville often confounds the 
majority with public opinion, which has the same tendency, 
or nearly so, in all civilized countries, whatever may be the 
form of government. Yet his work has great merit, and 
on most points is remarkably accurate where facts only are 
concerned. He is apt to theorize." 


The following letter to Alexis de Tocqueville was written 
by Mr. Sparks from Cambridge, June 13, 1853, when he was 
president of Harvard College, and relates to the progress 
and certain dangerous tendencies of democracy in America : 

607] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 45 

"I have delayed too long to answer the kind letter which 
accompanied your official communication acknowledging 
the receipt of the diploma from our university. The senti- 
ments expressed by you on the occasion were gratifying to 
the corporation, as showing an interest in the institution and 
good wishes for its continued prosperity. 

"Through the usual channels of intelligence, you are so 
well informed of the general state of affairs in this country, 
that any remarks from me with the view of enlarging your 
knowledge or enlightening your opinions, might seem 
superfluous. Your own observation and experience have 
made you familiar with the principles upon which our politi- 
cal system is founded and with many of the details of its 
operation. Yet there have been changes in twenty years; 
and indeed it would not be wise to predict with any degree 
of precision what developments time may bring to pass. 

"The material prosperity of the country goes onward with 
an amazing acceleration. The rapid growth of cities, towns, 
and villages, the expansion of commerce, the increasing pro- 
ducts of agriculture, the multiplication of railroads forming 
a network from the eastern extremity of Maine to the Mis- 
sissippi, and of steamboats floating on all the navigable 
rivers and lakes, the vast increase of manufactures of every 
description all these present a scene of rapid change, activ- 
ity, enterprise and progress which certainly has no parallel 
in the history of civilization. Nor is mental culture 
neglected. The school system of New England, modified 
as local circumstances may require, is established in nearly 
all the free States, patronized by the governments and sus- 
tained by the people. Higher seminaries and colleges are 
well supported. But it must doubtless be a long time, in 
the midst of so many temptations to active and political life, 
before there will be a large class who will seek eminence by 
triumphs in literature or purely intellectual achievements. 

"Your apprehensions of the tendencies of the popular 
mind are not without foundation. The history of the last 
few years, the acquisitions of Texas and California, prove 

46 fared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [608 

that a spirit of adventure and conquest excites the aspira- 
tions and moves the will of the people. Perhaps it is inher- 
ent in the democratic element. The clamor for acquiring 
Cuba springs from the same spirit ; and a slight cause would 
carry the arms of the United States again into Mexico. 
Where will this end and how are such vast accessions and 
discordant materials to be held together in a confederated 
republic? But the slave question presents the most for- 
midable problem. How is this to be solved? No political 
geometer has yet devised a method. You know the ex- 
treme difficulties attending this question, as connected both 
with the form and extent of slavery as it exists in this coun- 
try. Its political aspects are dark and ominous. 

"There is not the slightest reason to fear that the United 
States will meddle with the agitations of Europe. The ex- 
periment tried by Kossuth proved a total failure. The peo- 
ple were ready enough to sympathize, but not a voice was 
raised for action, unless from a few German emigrants and 
restless agitators. 

"When you again see Mr. Beaumont, please to present to 
him my kind remembrances. 

"Accept, my dear sir, the assurance of the sincere regards 
and friendship of 

"Yours most truly, JARED SPARKS." 

The final letter to Tocqueville from Mr. Sparks was dated 
at Cambridge, December 28, 1858, and relates to De Toc- 
queville's greatest work, "L'Ancien Regime," and also to 
the problem of American slavery: "On my return from 
Europe, I received from Mr. Ticknor the letter and the vol- 
ume which you sent to me by him from Paris. For these 
tokens of your friendship and kindness I beg you will accept 
my best thanks. I have perused your work with very great 
satisfaction not only as containing a rich fund of historical 
facts, but as presenting a clear and vivid picture of the in- 
ternal state of France during the important period which it 
embraces. I have nowhere seen the causes and gradual 

609] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. 47 

progress of the revolution so completely developed. The 
work throughout bears evidence of great labor and research 
in collecting the materials of which it is formed, and it must 
ever be regarded as a most valuable acquisition to the his- 
torical literature of France. In my library it will stand by 
the side of the "Democratic en Amerique," and together 
they will serve as a perpetual and agreeable memorial of 
their author. 

"What can I say to you concerning the state of public 
affairs in this country? No man understands better than 
yourself the principles and practical operations of our politi- 
cal system. No essential change has taken place since you 
were in America. There is a constant conflict of parties, 
but so it will always be in a free government. The rapid 
extension of settlements at the West and the addition of new 
States in that quarter, produce gradual changes in our in- 
ternal affairs, yet no material inconveniences have been 
found to result from these acquisitions, although new States 
are now forming on the Pacific Ocean nearly four thousand 
miles from the Capital at Washington. 

"Slavery is the absorbing topic which occupies all minds. 
It is indeed most formidable, whether regarded as bearing 
on the present or future prospects of the country. Eman- 
cipation is the hope and the ardent desire of every friend of 
humanity, but how or when this is to be effected no one can 
venture to predict. And even if all the slaves were now 
emancipated, what could be done with three millions of peo- 
ple, differing in race, color, and condition from those 
around them constituting the mass of the nation? The ten- 
dency of the evil, as it now exists, is to produce a geo- 
graphical division in the opinions and interests of dif- 
ferent States. Such a division must always be unfavorable 
to the Union. As yet, however, there are no serious appre- 
hensions of difficulty from this source. The future must 
be left to the guidance of a wise and beneficent Providence." 

48- Jarcd Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville. [610 


Writing to the Count de Menou of Paris, May 23, 1859, 
after the death of De Tocqueville, Mr. Sparks said : "Your 
letter of May 6 has just come to hand. I have also received 
your favor of April 21, enclosing a copy of your very kind 
note to M. Guizot and his answer, and also a copy of the 
letter concerning our departed friend, M. de Tocqueville. 
For all these I beg you will accept my grateful acknowledg- 
ments and cordial thanks. 

"The death of M. de Tocqueville has affected me very 
deeply. I knew him intimately during his travels in this 
country, and a friendly intercourse has existed between us 
ever since that time. He was not only an able and pro- 
found writer, but an estimable man. His death will be 
lamented by his friends everywhere. 

"I duly estimate, my dear Count, the lively interest you 
have taken in regard to the membership of the Academy. 
Such an event would unquestionably be most gratifying to 
me. As the suggestion first came from yourself, it is not 
surprising, perhaps, that you should wish to see it carried 
into effect. But I fear you are taking much more trouble 
in the business than the occasion will justify, and I trust you 
will not allow yourself to have the least uneasiness on my 
account if your efforts should not be successful. I cannot 
doubt M. Guizot's kind intentions and friendly aid, yet 
other candidates will probably be brought forward, and the 
election of a member to fill the vacancy may depend on con- 
tingencies which cannot now be anticipated or foreseen. I 
shall not, however, feel the less grateful to you and M. Gui- 
zot for your generous dispositions in my behalf. I have not 
mentioned the subject to any person. 

"I think it not advisable to make any further application 
at present for public documents. My former researches in 
the offices under M. Guizot's auspices, supplied me with a 
large number that are valuable ; and although other impor- 
tant papers might be found, yet the history may be made 

611] Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqwville. 49 

tolerably complete with such as I already have in my pos- 
session. Therefore, considering the kind of regulations now 
adopted in the archives, I should deem it inexpedient to re- 
new application at this time. 

"A copy of M. Gerard's correspondence while he was 
minister in the United States, during the years 1778 and 
1779, would doubtleess contribute valuable historical mater- 
ials. You have seen this correspondence among the papers 
of the French embassy at Washington. 

"I will make further inquiry about the original letter from 
D'Aulnay, which you mention. I have very little hope of 
procuring it, because it is among the State papers, and it is 
probable that none of the officers who have the charge of 
those papers will feel authorized to allow it to be taken 

"I shall be very glad to receive a copy of your family 
memoir when printed. I have sent to you a small parcel 
containing two or three pamphlets. It will be conveyed to 
you by the Rev. Dr. Frothingham, of Boston, who will sail 
shortly with his family from New York for Havre, on his 
way to Paris " 

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